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Law in South Korea Permits Chemical Castration of Sex Offenders

Chemical castration involves injections that lower testosterone levels. Photo courtesy of Andres Rueda/Flickr.com

In 2010, South Korea passed legislation which allowed the government to treat repeatedly-convicted molesters of children under the age of 16 with chemical castration. The law was first implemented this past May, when a man known to the public only by his surname (Park) was selected as the first to undergo the procedure (huffingtonpost.com). Park was released from prison under the condition that he wears an electronic anklet and returns for castration injections every three months for the next three years, according to Justice Ministry officials.

Chemical castration, as opposed to traditional castration involving the permanent surgical removal of sex organs, is a temporary procedure involving injections that lower testosterone levels and repress libido. This causes a decrease in sexual desire along with the physical inability to achieve an erection, all of which can be reversed by stopping the administration of the drug (CNN.com).

After the apparent success of Park’s treatment, South Korea is now attempting to expand the law to those who have molested anyone as old as 19. According to CNN.com, the new law would be the first of its kind to force chemical castration on those who have sexually assaulted victims that old.

Chemical castration is not solely an issue in South Korea. According to CNN.com, there are laws allowing the procedure in Britain, Denmark, and Sweden, as well as several U.S. states on a voluntary basis. But, as I read through the comment section of an article on this subject on timesofindia.indiantimes.com, it seems that many people across the world view this new law as an infringement of basic human rights. John F. Stinneford, a University of Florida law professor, published a paper titled, “Incapacitation through Maiming: Chemical Castration, the Eighth Amendment, and the Denial of Human Dignity” that was aimed at stopping the use of this procedure in the state of California. He states that “chemical castration is impermissibly cruel in two ways.” First, he noted that castration is degrading due to its control over the offender’s sexual desires, and that it is not an appropriate medical treatment for all offenders, as some do not suffer from sexual disorders such as pedophilia. Second, he reported that the procedure may cause severe, painful, and possibly long-term physical effects, such as osteoporosis. Stinneford makes the claim that at some point, the treatment “will cease to be merely disabling, and may become something more like torture.” Stinneford concludes that chemical castration constitutes cruel and unusual punishment—a violation of our Eighth Amendment.

I disagree with Stinneford. With the prison systems as crowded as they are, especially in America where the cost of keeping one inmate for a year is an average of $22,000 (according to politifeist.com),  there is a desperate need to clear our prisons of unnecessary inmates who can be punished in other ways. Foxnews.com reported that studies have shown that Depo-Provera, the chemical castration drug, causes a huge drop in the likelihood of a sex offender re-offending. Those treated relapse less than 1% of the time, whereas those who go untreated reo-ffend as often as 68% of the time (foxnews.com). This gives sex offenders who elect to receive Depo-Provera treatments an opportunity to serve shorter jail time and frees up the cells in our prisons, therefore cutting the amount of taxpayer money that is spent on inmates– according to bbc.co.uk and thedailybeast.com, the prisoner pays for the treatment himself if he chooses to be chemically castrated.

In an interview posted on thedailybeast.com, a sex offender who has received chemical castration says that “life is more carefree. I can plan for events five or six months from now knowing I’ll be home for them,” which he believes is more favorable than rotting in jail while still having his sexual ability. This sex offender, called “Jimmy” in the interview in order to protect his identity, also receives treatment from the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University, where he attends court-mandated individual and group counseling.

I do, however, think that chemical castration should come with a few conditions. First and foremost, any chemical castration should be elective, and the sex offender should be fully aware of the possible medical side effects before consenting. This will eliminate Stinneford’s claims that it is “cruel and unusual punishment,” since the procedure was consensual. The sex offender should also be required to attend extensive counseling sessions, like “Jimmy,” in order to monitor the effectiveness of the drug. Anyone who elects to receive Depo-Provera treatments should also be monitored via electronic anklet, like Park, in order to ensure that the restrictions imposed by parole as to where the sex offender may or may not go (like within a certain distance of a childcare facility) are being met.

If all of these requirements are enforced, I don’t see why chemical castration wouldn’t be a good idea.  It allows those suffering from pedophilia and other sexually deviant disorders to have an opportunity to recover and creates space for others who should be incarcerated.

Samantha Bloom can be reached at samantha.bloom@spartans.ut.edu

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